Laguna Loses Landmark Eatery

Cottage Restaurant co-owner Julie McCulley

The Cottage Restaurant, a Laguna Beach landmark for nearly half a century, will close its doors by the end of December, its co-owner confirmed Tuesday.

The owner of the historic home turned café sold 308 N. Coast Highway and the new owners plan to open their own restaurant on the premises, said Jennifer McCulley, who has run the restaurant with her sister and partner Julie McCulley for 12 years.

Since the new owners purchased the property but not the business, the McCulleys don’t have much cash to start fresh, even if it were possible to replicate the Cottage elsewhere, a tall order.

Customers waiting for a table are treated to a slice of Laguna history in seats from the original Playhouse.

“Half of what we are is because of where we are,” said McCulley, alluding to the combination of the historic white cottage, its beautiful geographic location, and the Laguna Beach community that supports it. “You can’t reproduce the same atmosphere in a strip mall,” she said.

Customers apparently hold the same view. One Trip Advisor review posted in October states: “The best part of this restaurant is the building itself…It is adorable, well maintained and we loved it. It’s worth eating here just to see this cute home from a time gone by with all of its charm.”

Constructed in 1917, the historic building housed its first restaurant when Howard and LeClaire

Many artists have appreciated the restaurant’s historic aesthetic.

Planalp opened the Laguna Vista Cafe on the premises in 1938. Though they ceased to operate the cafe due to  shortages during WWII, the Planalps resided there until 1957. For the next seven years the building housed the Pancake Cottage, until, in June of 1964, the Cottage Restaurant settled in for the long haul, a metamorphosis that involved restoring some original features that had been removed, such as the original solid oak front door, found in the garage. Subsequent curiosities added over the years served to enhance the nostalgic allure of the restaurant. Notably, the seats in the eatery’s lobby, having served theatergoers for 40 years at the Old Laguna Playhouse on Ocean Street, were purchased when it closed in 1969. And a series of character studies of one of Laguna’s famous greeters, Eiler Larsen, created by the late Dr. Ronald A. Greene, grace the lobby walls.

“We had a really great time,” said McCulley. And even though she admitted it hasn’t always been easy given the distressed economy, they love their business because of the connections they have made within the community, from their loyal customers to neighbors like John Madison, owner of the neighboring Madison Square and Garden Café, who will all be sorely missed.

“We just have to get through this and figure out on the other side what we are going to do,” said a noticeably saddened McCulley, who has vowed not to be bitter. Despite the loss of her business, she said she’s grateful that the new owners apparently like the old building and plan to maintain its historic integrity.

In the meantime, the Cottage will host a farewell Christmas party that will coincide with First Thursdays Artwalk from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Dec. 6. They hope friends and customers will stop in for some chili and corn bread, hot apple cider and holiday cheer, along with art exhibits including a display of Christmas ornaments by abstract artist Jess Black.

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  1. Ginna Arnold (Lazar)

    I am 53 yeas old. I have been coming to the Cottage all of my life. My children have grown up there too. I grew up in Laguna. Every large and small family gathering has included breakfast at the Cottage. My parents are gone, one of my nephews is gone…times have changed, friends have gone and now this. Time is not our friend. I am absolutely heartbroken…this is devastating….when I enter the restaurant I see the pictures of Eielers (sp) Larsen who I remember at the end of Broadway and Coast Highway..waving, I see the seats from the Pagent..I see my fathers face, my step-mom, Louise Turner Arnold, I see my family..laughing…this is the death of a HUGE part of my life…..I am sorry for the owners. Another reason to skip coming home…

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